New K-12 Book Releases: Diversity

By Ariel Mond — June 12, 2013 6 min read
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Stephen Sawchuk’s article last month in Education Week added a new component to the multi-faceted topic of diversity in education: teacher credentials. The article outlined how several states are in the process of designing policies to raise the bar when it comes to teacher standards. These new measures would require aspiring teachers to meet certain SAT, ACT, and/or GPA scores in order to apply to teacher-preparation programs. Theoretically, this would limit the application pool to better students, thus creating better teachers.

Well, here’s the rub: results from these tests show that minority groups such as African Americans and Hispanic Americans score worse by these measures, according to Sawchuk. Cutting the applicant pool using these assessments, then, would lead to a less diverse teacher population, which is the opposite of what data says will help close the achievement gap. In fact, the article discusses studies showing that matching students to same-race teachers boosts academic, social, and emotional benefits for students.

The following books from the past academic year address diversity in schools and offer information on the social hurdles that accompany students from historically disenfranchised groups.

High Schools, Race, and America’s Future, by Lawrence Blum (Harvard Education Press, 2012). A college professor of philosophy and issues of race, Lawrence Blum details his experiences teaching about race and racism in a racially, ethnically, and economically diverse high school. Working with teens for whom race has always played an integral part in their lives, Blum challenges his students to think deeply and critically about race and diversity in high schools.

Voices of Determination: Children that Defy the Odds, by Kevin Chavous (Transaction Publishers, 2012). With this book, Kevin Chavous tells the stories of 10 young people, all of whom battle poverty to get an education. The students share their experiences with inner-city neighborhoods, immigration, hurdles to adequate health care, struggles with substance abuse, addiction, and child abuse. Through the voices of these young people, Chavous argues that it is necessary to battle poverty in order to provide everyone with equal access to education.

LGBT Youth in America’s Schools, by Jason Cianciotto and Sean Cahill (University of Michigan, 2012). In this book, the authors bring policy analysis and personal stories to the topic of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. They identify the challenges these students face, including resistance and hostility from peers and educators as well as local, state, and federal laws. The authors also give policy recommendations on how schools can better meet the needs of their LGBT students.

Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students, by Peter DeWitt (Corwin, 2012). A book addressed specifically to educators, Dignity for All aims to open teachers’ eyes to the difficulties of being a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender student and to guide them in creating a more inclusive environment. Author Peter DeWitt, also the voice behind the blog Finding Common Ground, brings his perspective as an openly gay elementary school principal and former elementary school teacher to such topics as bullying, curriculum-building, gay-straight alliances, and school board policies.

The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What It Means for American Schools, by Thomas A. DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann (Russell Sage Foundation, 2013). A sociological examination of America’s gender gap in education, The Rise of Women traces trends related to female students in schools and notes the disparity between men’s and women’s educational experiences. DiPrete and Buchmann, both professors of sociology, discuss how women have been surpassing men in higher education achievement and attainment for the past forty years. They identify the causes of this trend as well as its exceptions, and examine the implications this change has for the education system as a whole.

The Resegregation of Suburban Schools: A Hidden Crisis in American Education, edited by Erica Frankenberg and Gary Orfield (Harvard Education Press, 2012). Frankenberg and Orfield, both academics in the field of education policy, have compiled this book to examine the racial implications of today’s changing suburban demographics. Using case studies that illustrate growing racial diversity across America’s suburbs, this book shows that communities lack strategies to deal with emerging patterns and risk a social form of resegration in schools. The book includes a discussion of how suburban schools can meet these demographical challenges.

There Is Nothing Wrong With Black Students, by Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu (African American Images, 2012). In this book, Kunjufu argues against the notion that there is something “wrong” with black students. Low test scores and disciplinary problems are more telling of failures on the part of teachers, than of students, he says. Based on his research and visits to over 3,000 public schools in low-income African-American neighborhoods, Kunjufu devotes his book to examples of successful African American students and describes the circumstances in which they thrive. If educators can make curricula more culturally relevant and suited to students’ needs, he argues, the misconception of a racially driven achievement gap will be a thing of the past.

Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City, by Barbara J. Miner (The New Press, 2013). With this book, Miner leads readers through the story of Milwaukee, Wisc. and a history of the city’s public education. A journalist and resident of Milwaukee, Miner investigates the reforms and setbacks that the city’s public schools have faced, including segregation in the 1950s and 60s, desegregation and deindustrialization in the 70s and 80s, and resegregation in the 90s and 2000s. By examining this Mid-western city and its social struggles and educational trends, Miner opens up a greater discussion on public education in America.

Color by Number: Understanding Racism Through Facts and Stats on Children, by Art Munin (Stylus Publishing, 2012). Educator Art Munin takes a statistical approach to prove the pervasiveness of racism in America, compiling data that illustrate how children of color are subjected to disadvantages caused by racism. The numbers show that inequality pervades K-12 and higher education in addition to health-care access, environmental justice, and juvenile justice. In his final chapter, Munin issues a call to action that we must all be agents of social change in order to defeat racism and inequality.

Portraits of Promise: Voices of Successful Immigrant Students, by Michael Sadowski (Harvard Education Press, 2013). This book profiles eight successful immigrant students who have been in the United States for five years or less. Sadowski interviewed middle and high school students and offers each of the book’s portraits in the voice of the featured teen. Key themes in the book include the newcomer experience, being successful in two languages, acclimating to American social norms, connecting with teachers, and struggling with identity. Sadowski ends with recommendations on how to address the challenges of being an immigrant student and how teachers can help them succeed.

First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School, by Alison Steward (Independent Publishers Group, 2013). In this book, journalist Alison Steward chronicles the impressive history and curious decline of Dunbar, the first black public high school in the United States. Founded in 1870 in Washington, the school flourished in its first 70 years only to falter after reaching its apex in mid-20th century when it sent 80 percent of its students to college. Now, as its students are barely proficient in reading and math and the school looks to open a new campus in the fall of 2013, Dunbar serves as a unique example of problems facing American education, including the struggles of urban public schools and the persistence of racism.

A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.